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Soldier and Death 










January 1920 


A SOLDIER served God and the Great 
Tzar for twenty-five years, earned three 
dry biscuits, and set off to walk his way 
home. He kissed his companions with whom 
he had served so long, and boasted of the 
feasting there would be in the village when 
he should come marching home with all his 
wars behind him. Singing at the top of his 
voice he was as he set off. But as soon as he was 
alone on the high road, walking through the 
forest he began to think things over. And he 
thought to himself : All these years I have 
served the Tzar and had good clothes to my 
back and my belly full of victuals. And now I 
am like to be both hungry and cold. Already 
I've nothing but three dry biscuits. 

Just then he met an old beggar, who stood 
in the road and crossed himself and asked alms 
for the love of God. 

The soldier had not a copper piece in the 
world, so he gave the beggar one of his three 
dry biscuits. 

He had not gone very far along the road 
when he met a second beggar, who leant on a 
stick and recited holy words and begged alms 
for the love or God . 

The soldier gave him the second of his three 
dry biscuits. 

And then, at a bend in the road, he met a 
third old beggar, with long white hair and 
beard and loathsome rags, who stood shaking 


by the roadside, and he begged alms for the 
love of God. 

" If I give him my last dry biscuit I shall 
have nothing left for myself," thought the 
soldier. He gave the old beggar half of the 
third dry biscuit. Then the thought came into 
his head that perhaps this old beggar would 
meet the other two, and would learn that they 
had been given whole biscuits while he had 
only been given a half. " He will be hurt and 
affronted," thought the soldier, " and his bless- 
ing will be of no avail." So he gave the old 
beggar the other half also of the third of his 
three dry biscuits. " I shall get along some- 
how," thought the soldier, and was for making 
forward on his way. But the old beggar put out 
his hand and stopped him. 

" Brother," says the old beggar, " are you 
in want of anything ? " 

" God bless you," says the soldier, looking 
at the beggar's rags, " I want nothing from 
you. You're a poor man yourself." 

" Never mind my poverty," says the old 
beggar. " Just tell me what you would like to 
have, and I am well able to reward you for your 
kind heart." 

" I don't want anything," said the soldier ; 
" but, if you do happen to have such a thing as 
a pack of cards about you, I'd keep them in 
memory of you, and they'd be a pleasure to 
me on the long road." 

The old beggar thrust his hand into his 
bosom among his rags, and pulled out a pack 
of cards. 


" Take these," says he, " and when you 
play with them you'll always be winner who- 
ever may be playing against you. And here's a 
flour sack for you as well. If you meet anything 
and want to catch it, just open the sack and tell 
beasts or birds or aught else to get into it, and 
they'll do just that, and you can close the sack 
and do with them what you will." 

" Thank you kindly, "says the soldier, throws 
the sack over his shoulder, puts the pack of 
cards in his pocket, and trudges off along the 
high road singing an old song. 

He went on and on till he came to a lake, 
where he drank a little water to ease his thirst, 
and smoked a pipe to put off his hunger, rest- 
ing by the shore of the lake. And there on the 
lake he saw three wild geese swimming far 
away. " Now if I could catch them ! " thought 
the soldier, and remembered the sack the old 
beggar had given him. He opened the sack and 
shouted at the top of his voice : " Hi ! 
You there, you wild geese, come into my 
sack !" 

And the three wild geese splashed up out of 
the water, and flew to the bank and crowded 
into the sack one after the other. 

The soldier tied up the mouth of the sack, 
flung it over his shoulder and went on his way. 

He came to a town, and looked for a tavern, 
and chose the best he could see, and went in 
there and asked for the landlord. 

" See here," says he, " here are three wild 
geese. I want one of them roasted for my din- 
ner. Another I'll give you in exchange for a 


bottle of vodka. The third you shall have to 
pay you for your trouble." 

The landlord agreed, as well he might, and 
presently the soldier was seated at a good table 
near a window, with a whole bottle of the best 
vokda, and a fine roast goose fresh from the 

When he had made an end of the goose, the 
soldier laid down his knife and fork, tipped the 
last drops of the vodka down his throat, and 
set the bottle upside down upon the table. 
Then he lit his little pipe, sat back on the bench 
and took a look out of the window to see what 
was doing in the town. 

And there on the other side of the road was 
a fine palace , well carved and painted. A year's 
work had gone to the carving of every doorpost 
and window-frame. But in all the palace there 
was not one whole pane of glass. 

" Landlord," says the soldier, " tell me 
what's the meaning of this ? Why is a fine 
palace like that standing empty with broken 
windows ? " 

" It's a good enough palace," says the land- 
lord. " The Tzar built the palace for him- 
self, but there's no living in it because of the 

" Devils ? " says the soldier. 

" Devils," says the landlord. " Every night 
they crowd into the palace, and, what with 
their shouting and yelling and screaming and 
playing cards, and all the other devilries that 
come into their heads, there's no living in the 
palace for decent folk." 


" And does nobody clear them out ? " asks 
the soldier. 

" Easier said than done," says the landlord. 

Well, with that the soldier wishes good 
health to the landlord, and sets off to see the 
Tzar. He comes walking into the Tzar's house 
and gives him a salute. 

" Your Majesty," says he, " will you give 
me leave to spend one night in your empty 
palace ? " 

" God bless you," says the Tzar, " but you 
don't know what you are asking. Foolhardy 
folk enough have tried to spend a night in that 
palace. They went in merry and boasting, but 
not one of them came walking out alive in the 

" What of that ? " says the soldier. " Water 
won't drown a Russian soldier, and fire won't 
burn him. I have served God and the Tzar for 
twenty- five years and am not dead. A single 
night in that palace won't be end of me." 

" But I tell you : a man walks in there alive 
in the evening, and in the morning the servants 
have to search the floor for the little bits of his 

" None the less," says the soldier, " if your 
majesty will give me leave. ..." 

" Get along with you and God be with you," 
says the Tzar. " Spend the night there if you've 
set your heart on it." 

So the soldier came to the palace and stepped 
in, singing through the empty rooms. He made 
himself comfortable in the biggest room of all,, 
laid his knapsack in a corner and hung his. 


sword on a nail, sat down at the table, took 
out his bag of tobacco, filled his little pipe, 
and sat there smoking, ready for what might 

Twelve o'clock sharp and there was a yell- 
ing, a shouting, a blowing of horns, a scraping 
of fiddles and every other kind of instrument, 
a noise of dancing, of running, of stamping, 
and the palace cram full of devils making them- 
selves at home as if the place belonged to 

" And you, soldier ? " cried the devils. 
" What are you sitting there so glum for, 
smoking your pipe ? There's smoke enough 
where we have been. Put your pipe in your 
pocket and play a round of cards with us." 

" Right you are," says the soldier, " if you'll 
play with my cards." 

" Deal them out," shouted the devils, and 
the soldier put his pipe in his pocket and dealt 
out the cards, while the devils crowded round 
the table fighting for room on the benches. 

They played a game and the soldier won. 
They played another and he won again. The 
devils were cunning enough, God knows, but 
not all their cunning could win a single game 
for them. The soldier was raking in the money 
all the time. Soon enough the devils had not a 
penny piece between them, and the soldier 
was for putting up his cards and lighting his 
pipe. Content he was, and well he might be, 
with his pockets bulging with money. 

" Stop a minute, soldier," said the devils, 
* we've still got sixty bushels of silver and forty 



of gold. We'll play for them if you'll give us 
time to send for them." 

" Lets see the silver," says the soldier, and 
puts the cards in his pocket. 

Well, they sent a little devil to fetch the silver. 
Sixty times he ran out of the room and sixty 
times he came staggering back with a bushel of 
silver on his shoulders. 

The soldier pulled out his cards, and they 
played on, but it was all the same. The devils 
cheated in every kind of way, but could not 
win a game. 

" Go and fetch the gold," says the oldest 

" Aye, aye, grandfather," says the little 
devil, and goes scuttling out of the room. Forty 
times he ran out, and forty times he came 
staggering back with a bushel of gold between 
his shoulders. 

They played on. The soldier won every 
game and all the gold, asked if they had any 
more money to lose, put his cards in his pocket 
and lit his pipe. 

The devils looked at all the money they had 
lost. It seemed a pity to lose all that good silver 
and gold. 

" Tear him to pieces, brothers," they cried, 
" tear him to pieces, eat him and have done !" 

The soldier tapped his little pipe on the table. 

" First make sure," says he, " who eats 
whom." And with that he whips out his sack, 
and, says he, to the devils, who were all gnash- 
ing their teeth and making ready to fall on him, 
" what do you call this ? " 



" It's a sack," said the devils. 

"Is it ? " says the soldier. " Then, by the 
word of God, get into it ! " 

And the next minute all those devils were 
tumbling over each other and getting into the 
sack, squeezing in one on the top of another 
until the last one had got inside. Then the 
soldier tied up the sack with a good double 
knot, hung it on a nail, and lay down to sleep. 

In the morning the Tzar sent his servants. 

" Go," says the Tzar, " and see what has 
happened to the soldier who spent the night 
in the empty palace. If the unclean spirits have 
made an end of him, then you must sweep up 
his bones and make all clean." 

The servants came, all ready to lament for 
the brave soldier done to death by the unclean, 
and there was the soldier walking cheerfully 
from one room to another, smoking his little 

" Well done, soldier ! We never thought to 
see you alive. And how did you spend the 
night ? How did you manage against the 
devils ? " 

" Devils ? " says the soldier. " I wish all 
men I have played cards against had paid their 
debts so honestly. Have a look at the silver and 
gold I won from them. Look at the heaps of 
money lying on the floor." 

The servants looked at the silver and gold 
and touched it to see if it was real. But there 
was no doubt about that. I wish I had more in 
my pocket of the same sort. 

" Now, brothers," said the soldier, " off 



with you as quick as you can, go and fetch two 
blacksmiths here on the run. And let them 
bring with them an iron anvil and the two 
heaviest hammers in the forge." 

The servants asked no questions, but hurried 
to the smithy, and the two blacksmiths came 
running, with anvil and hammers. Giants they 
were, the strongest men in all the town. 

" Now," says the soldier, " take that sack 
from the nail and lay it on the anvil and let 
me see how the blacksmiths of this town can 
set about their work. 

The blacksmiths took the sack from the nail. 

" Devil take it, what a weight," they said to 
each other. 

And little voices screamed out of the sack : 
" We are good folk. We are your own people." 

" Are you ? " said the blacksmiths ; and 
they laid the sack on the anvil and swung the 
great hammers, up and down, up and down, 
as if they were beating out a lump of iron. 

The devils fared badly in there, and worse 
and worse. The hammers came down as if they 
were going through devils, anvil, earth, and 
all. It was more than even devils could bear. 

" Have mercy ! " they screamed. " Have 
mercy, soldier ! Let us out again into the world, 
and we'll never forget you world without end. 
And as for this palace. . . . No devil shall 
put the nail of the toe of his foot in it. We'll 
tell them all. Not one shall come within a hun- 
dred miles." 

The soldier let the blacksmiths give a few 
more blows, just for luck. Then he stopped 



them, and untied the mouth of the sack. The 
moment he opened it, the devils shot out, and 
fled away to hell without looking right or left 
in their hurry. 

But the soldier was no fool, and he grabbed 
one old devil by the leg. And the devil hung 
gibbering, trying to get away. The soldier cut 
the devil's hairy wrist to the bone, so that the 
blood flowed, took a pen, dipped it in the 
blood, and gave it to the devil. But he never 
let go of his leg. 

" Write," says he, " that you will be my 
faithful servant." 

The old devil screamed and wriggled, but 
the soldier gripped him tight. There was noth- 
ing to be done. He wrote and signed in his own 
blood a promise to serve the soldier faithfully 
wherever and whenever there should be need. 
Then the soldier let him go, and he went hop- 
ping and screaming after the others, and had 
disappeared in a moment. 

And so the devils went rushing down to 
hell, aching in every bone of their hairy bodies. 
And they called all the other unclean spirits, 
old and young, big and little, and told what 
had happened to them. And they set sentinels 
all round hell, and guards at every gate, and 
ordered them to watch well, and, whatever 
they did, not on any account to let in the 
soldier with the flour sack. 

The soldier went to the Tzar and told him 
how he had dealt with the devils, and how 
henceforth no devil would set foot within a 
hundred miles of the palace. 



" If that's so," says the Tzar, " we'll move 
at once, and go and live there, and you shall 
live with me and be honoured as my own 
brother." And with that there was a great to do 
shifting the bedding and tables and benches 
and all else from the old palace to the new, 
and the soldier set up house with the Tzar, 
living with him as his own brother, and wear- 
ing fine clothes with gold embroidery, and 
eating the same food as the Tzar, and as much 
of it as he liked. Money to spend he had, for 
he had won from the devils enough to last 
even a spending man a thousand years. And 
he had nothing to spend it on. Hens don't eat 
gold. No more do mice. And there the money 
lay in a corner till the soldier was tired of look- 
ing at it. 

So the soldier thought he would marry. And 
he took a wife, and in a year's time God gave 
him a son, and he had nothing more to wish 
for except to see the son grow up and turn into 
a general. 

But it so happened that the little boy fell ill, 
and what was the matter with him no one knew. 
He grew worse and worse from day to day, 
and the Tzar sent for every doctor in the coun- 
try, but not one of them did him a half- penny- 
worth of good. The doctors grew richer and 
the boy grew no better but worse, as is often 
the way. 

The soldier had almost given up hope of 
saving his son when he remembered the old 
devil who had signed a promise written in his 
own blood to serve the soldier faithfully wher- 


ever and whenever there should be need. He 
remembered this, and said to himself: " Where 
the devil has my old devil hidden himself all 
this time ? " 

And he had scarcely said this when sud- 
denly there was the little old devil standing in 
front of him, dressed like a peasant in a little 
shirt and breeches, trembling with fright and 
asking : " How can I serve your Excellency ?" 

" See here," says the soldier. " My son is 
ill. Do you happen to know how to cure him?" 

The little old devil took a glass from his 
pocket and filled it with cold water and set it 
on the sick child's forehead. 

" Come here, your Excellency," says he, 
" and look into the glass of water." 

The soldier came and looked in the glass. 

" And what does your Excellency see ? " 
asked the little old devil, who was so much 
afraid of the soldier that he trembled and 
could hardly speak. 

" I see Death, like a little old woman, stand- 
ing at my son's feet." 

" Be easy," says the little old devil, " for if 
Death is standing at your son's feet he will be 
well again. But if Death were standing at his 
head then nothing could save him." 

And with that the little old devil lifted the 
glass and splashed the cold water over the sick 
child, and the next minute there was the little 
boy crawling about and laughing and crowing 
as if he had never been sick in his life. 

" Give me that glass," says the soldier, 
" and we'll cry quits." 



The little old devil gave him the glass. And 
the soldier gave back the promise which the 
devil had signed in his own blood. As soon as 
the little old devil had that promise in his hand 
he gave one look at the soldier and fled away 
as if the blacksmiths had only that minute 
stopped beating him on the anvil. 

And the soldier after that set up as a wise 
man and put all the doctors out of business, 
curing the boyars and generals. He would just 
look in his glass, and if Death stood at a sick 
man's feet, he threw the water over him and 
cured him. If Death stood at the sick man's 
head, he said : " It's all up with you," and the 
sick man died as sure as fate. 

All went well until the Tzar himself fell ill 
and sent for the soldier to cure him. 

The soldier went in, and the Tzar greeted 
him as his own brother, and prayed him to be 
quick, as he felt the sickness growing upon 
him as he lay. The soldier poured cold water 
in the glass, and set it on the Tzar's forehead, 
and looked and looked again, and saw Death 
standing at the Tzar's head. 

" O Tzar," says the soldier, " it's all up with 
you. Death is waiting by your head, and you 
have but a few minutes left to live." 

" What ? " cries the Tzar, " you cure my 
boyars and generals and you will not cure me 
who am Tzar, and have treated you as my own 
born brother. If I've only a few minutes to live 
I've time enough to give orders for you to be 

The soldier thought and thought, and he 



begged Death : " O Death," says he, " give 
my life to the Tzar and kill me instead. Better 
to die so than to end by being shamefully be- 
headed ! " 

He looked once more in the glass, and saw 
that the little old woman Death had shifted 
from the Tzar's head and was now standing at 
his feet. He picked up the glass and splashed 
the water over the Tzar, and there was the 
Tzar as well and healthy as ever he had been. 

" You are my own true brother after all," 
says the Tzar. " Let us go and feast to- 

But the soldier shook in all his limbs and 
could hardly stand, and he knew that his time 
was come. He prayed Death : " O Death, give 
me just one hour to say good-bye to my wife 
and my little son." 

" Hurry up ! " says Death. 

And the soldier hurried to his room in the 
palace, said good-bye to his wife, told his son 
to grow up and be a general, lay down on his 
bed and grew iller every minute. 

He looked, and there was Death, a little old 
woman, standing by his bedside. 

" Well, soldier," says Death, " you have 
only two minutes left to live ! " 

The soldier groaned, and, turning in bed, 
pulled the flour sack from under his pillow 
and opened it. 

"Do you know what this is ? " says he to Death . 

" A sack," says Death. 

" Well, if it is a sack, get into it ! " says the 



Death was into the sack in a moment, and 
the soldier leapt from his bed well and strong, 
tied up the sack with two double knots, flung 
it over his shoulder and set out for the deep 
forest of Brian, which is the thickest in all the 
world . He came to the forest and made his way 
into the middle of it, hung the sack from the 
topmost branches of a high poplar tree, left it 
there and came home singing songs at the top 
of his voice and full of all kinds of merriment. 

From that time on there was no dying in the 
world . There were births every day, and plenty 
of them, but nobody died. It was a poor time 
for doctors. And so it was for many years. 
Death had come to an end, and it was as if all 
men would live for ever. And all the time the 
little old woman, Death, tied up in a sack, 
unable to get about her business, was hanging 
from the top of a tall poplar tree away in Brian 

And then, one day, the soldier was walking 
out to take the air, and he met an ancient old 
crone, so old and so ancient that she was like 
to fall whichever way the wind blew. She tot- 
tered along, blown this way and that, like a 
blade of withered grass. 

" What an old hag," said the soldier to him- 
self. " It was time for her to die a many years 

;< Yes," says the old crone, with her tooth- 
less gums numbling and grumbling over her 
words. " Long ago it was time for me to die. 
When you shut up Death in the sack I had 
only an hour left to live. I had done with the 



world, and the world had done with me, and 
I would have been glad to be at peace. Long 
ago my place in heaven was made ready, and it 
is empty to this day for I cannot die. You, 
soldier, have sinned before God and before 
man. You have sinned a sin that God will not 
forgive. I am not the only soul in the world who 
is tortured as I am. Mine is not the only place 
that is growing dusty in heaven. Hundreds and 
thousands of us who should have died drag on 
in misery about the world. And but for you we 
should now be resting in peace." 

The soldier began to think. And he thought 
of all the other old men and women he had 
kept from the rest that God had made ready 
for them. " There is no doubt about it," thinks 
he ; "I had better let Death loose again. No 
matter if I am the first of whom she makes an 
end. I have sinned many sins, not counting 
this one. Better go to the other world now and 
bear my punishment while I am -strong, for 
when I am very old it will come worse to me to 
be tortured." 

So he set off to the forest of Brian, which is 
the thickest in all the world. He found the 
poplar tree, and saw the sack hanging from the 
topmost branches, swinging this way and that 
as wind blew. 

" Well, Death, are you alive up there ? " 
the soldier shouted against the wind. 

And a little voice, hardly to be heard, an- 
swered from the sack : " Alive, little father ! " 

So the soldier climbed up the tree, took 
down the sack, and carried it home over his 



shoulder. He said good-bye to his wife and his 
son, who was now a fine young lad. Then he 
went into his own room, opened the bag, lay 
down upon the bed, and begged Death to make 
an end of him. 

And Death, in the form of a little old woman, 
crept trembling out of the sack, looking this 
way and that, for she was very much afraid. 
As soon as she saw the soldier she bolted 
through the door, and ran away as fast as her 
little old legs could carry her. " The devils 
can make an end of you if they like/' she 
shrieked, " but you don't catch me taking a 
hand in it." 

The soldier sat up on the bed and knew that 
he was alive and well. Troubled he was as to 
what to do next. Thinks he : "I'd better get 
straight along to hell, and let the devils throw 
me into the boiling pitch, and stew me until 
all my sins are stewed out of me." 

So he said good-bye to everybody, took his 
sack in his hands and set off to hell by the best 
road he could find. 

Well, he walked on and on, over hill and 
valley and through the deep forest, until he 
came at last to the kingdom of the unclean. 
There were the walls of hell and the gates of 
hell, and as he looked he saw that sentinels 
were standing at every gate. 

As soon as he came near a gate the devil 
doing sentry go calls out : 

" Who goes there ? " 

" A sinful soul come to you to be stewed in 
the boiling pitch." 



" And what is that you've got in your hand ?" 

" A sack." 

And the devil yelled out at the top of his 
voice and gave the alarm. From all sides the 
unclean rushed up and began closing every 
gate and window in hell with strong bolts and 

And the soldier walked round hell outside 
the walls, unable to get in. 

He cried out to the Prince of Hell : 

" Let me into hell, I beg you. I have come 
to you to be tormented, because I have sinned 
before God and before man." 

" No," shouted the Prince of Hell, " I won't 
let you in. Go away. Go away, I tell you. Go 
away, anywhere you like. There's no place for 
you here." 

The soldier was more troubled than ever. 

" Well," says he, " if you won't let me in, 
you won't. I'll go away if you will give me two 
hundred sinful souls. I will take them to God, 
and perhaps, when he sees them, he will for- 
give me and let me into heaven." 

" I'll throw in another fifty," says the 
Prince of Hell, " if only you'll get away from 

And he told the lesser devils to count out 
two hundred and fifty sinful souls and to let 
them out quickly at one of the back doors of 
hell, while he held the soldier in talk, so that 
the soldier should not slip in while the sinful 
souls were going out. 

It was done, and the soldier set off for heaven 
with two hundred and fifty sinful souls behind 



him, marching in column of route, as the 
soldier made them for the sake of order and 

Well, they marched on and on, and in the 
end they came to heaven, and stopped before 
the very gates of Paradise. 

And the holy apostles, standing in the gate- 
way of Paradise, said : " Who are you ? " 

" I am the soldier who hung Death in a sack, 
and I have brought two hundred and fifty 
sinful souls from hell in hope that God will 
pardon my sins and let me into Paradise." 

And the apostles went to the Lord, and 
told him that the soldier had come, and 
brought with him two hundred and fifty sinful 

And God said : " Let in the sinful souls, 
but do not let in the soldier." 

The apostles went back to the gateway, and 
opened the gates and told the souls they might 
come in. But when the soldier tried to march 
in at the head of his company they stopped 
him, and said : " No, soldier ! There's no 
place for you here." 

So the soldier took one of the sinful souls 
aside and gave that soul his sack, and told him : 
" As soon as you are through the gates of 
Paradise, open the sack and shout out " Into 
the sack, soldier ! " You will do this because I 
brought you here from hell." 

And the sinful soul promised to do this for 
the soldier. 

But when that sinful soul went through the 
gates into Paradise, for very joy it forgot about 


the soldier, and threw away the sack some- 
where in Paradise, where it may be lying to 
this day. 

And so the soldier, after waiting a long time, 
went slowly back to earth. Death would not 
take him. There was no place for him in Para- 
dise and no place for him in Hell. For all I 
know he may be living yet. 

Printed for : the Author at The 

Westminster Press, London 

W. and published by 

John G. Wilson at 

7 7 Queen Street 



University of California 


405 Hilgard Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024-1388 

Return this material to the library 

from which it was borrowed. 


JUN 151394 



-^ Syracuse, N. Y. 
^^^ Stockton, Calif.